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Mercy Housing Northwest

Putting the tools for better health within arm’s reach

The challenge

Vulnerable and low-income families face many challenges that affect health and well-being. They often deal with low availability of fresh produce, limited knowledge about selecting and preparing nutritious foods, and lack of time to cook. They also may be short of the money and time needed for health clubs or exercise programs.

The vision

Mercy Housing, a multi-state provider of affordable housing for very-low-income families, was founded in 1981. Its Washington arm, Mercy Housing Northwest (MHNW), serves nearly 2,500 people in eight communities, approximately half of whom are children. With assistance from the Aetna Foundation, MHNW is launching Healthy Families: Adopting a New Lifestyle. This program aims to provide families with a variety of activities focused on nutrition and fitness – free of charge and where families live.

The approach

Educators provide nutrition classes that teach healthy cooking, cost-conscious shopping, quick meal ideas and food support. And it's presented as a fun, hands-on family experience. To ensure food security, food is regularly distributed across all eight MHNW communities. Each site also maintains an emergency food pantry. Children receive healthy after-school snacks during the school year and a free lunch in summer. Community gardens operate at three of the eight MHNW housing sites, allowing residents to grow their own produce while also providing science education for children. Ongoing exercise programs for children and adults, such as Zumba, yoga and Wii Fit, are offered at most sites.

The results

Mercy Housing Northwest is engaging 1,500 people in these nutrition, exercise and gardening activities to motivate healthy lifestyles and encourage greater self-sufficiency. In addition, more than 300 families, including 1,000 people, will receive food support, ensuring greater food security as they strive to improve daily nutrition.

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